Sitting on Auckland’s doorstep, beautiful Great Barrier Island recently became a designated International Dark Sky Sanctuary. The island is only one of three sanctuaries in the world, which meant a celebration for being granted this status was a definite must! Vanessa Rancour, Stardome’s Education Manager, spent a weekend on the island and recalls the celebrations.

Great Barrier Island Dark Sky

On 19 August 2017, Great Barrier Island celebrated their International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) certification with a public outreach programme that Stardome was excited to take part in. The launch event began and ended in showers of stars. Glittery stars were expelled out of a magical pouch by Izzy Fordham from the Great Barrier Local Board. The theme for the event was all stars, and the starry capes, hats, leggings, dresses and jackets were all on display as people took to the stage for speeches. We even had starry music, as children from the local primary schools sang the Matariki waiata to the overflowing hall of spectators.

After the stage was vacated, afternoon tea was in full swing with star covered cake and muffins. Many children ended up decorating their crafts with the cake and muffins as the excitement was far too much for them to pause and clean off their hands. Astronz and the AAS (Auckland Astronomical Society) had telescopes on display and the Universe To-Go on sale to get people geared up and ready for the evening stargazing activities. Stardome setup the Pipehenge next to the AAS solar telescope for some daytime astronomy. Children and adults alike created double sided sundials that we used to discover how the Pipehenge depicts the apparent motion of the Sun as it changes through the day, and through the seasons! For the really keen, we also used the Pipehenge to check out the apparent motion of the stars in our southern skies.

That evening the stars were threatening not to come out and play as the rain clouds rolled in and out of view. However, the dark skies of Great Barrier Island did not disappoint as a perfect view of our Milky Way Galaxy eventually spilt proudly across the sky. The very centre of the galaxy was directly overhead, with Saturn as the proverbial cherry on top. Jupiter was also visible just between Saturn and the setting Sun, making the stargazing event a wonderful success.

It is very exciting to have the first island in the world to be granted dark-sky sanctuary status only a 30-minute flight out of Auckland airport. The importance of preserving our night sky for future generations to look up and be inspired cannot be overlooked. Thank you Great Barrier Island for all the hard work and effort you’ve put into making sure your lighting keeps our skies nice and dark to give even the faintest and most distant stars the chance to shine!

If you would like to know more about the planets, stars, galaxies, constellations and nebula then head to Great Barrier Island and join a guided star gazing evening with one of their Dark Sky Ambassadors. Find out more here. 

Great Barrier Island Dark Sky

Images: Kim Wesney